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Law School Transparency Gets R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Vivia Chen

June 14, 2011

Rotunda_reading_room_ca1900 I admit I thought the Law School Transparency project was a pie-in-the-sky movement when it first popped up on the legal scene during the height of the recession. Founded by two Vanderbilt University Law School students in 2009, LST has been pushing law schools for detailed information about how graduates are employed--or not. Part of its mission is to provide an objective measure about the "worth" of a law degree.

Until recently, it seemed like a voice in the wilderness crying for reform. When it asked law schools to commit to the principle of transparency, only Ave Maria Law School agreed, only to later withdraw.

But Law School Transparency just got a big fish. The ABA "has taken its first formal step toward improving the accuracy and transparency of law school employment data," reports The National Law Journal. The ABA approved changes to its annual law school questionnaire, requiring detailed information on employment and salary--pretty much what LST has been lobbying for.

Why is this a big deal? Academic institutions aren't usually held accountable--especially ones as mighty and self-righteous as law schools. More radical, perhaps, is the tacit acknowledgment that law schools are essentially trade schools, and getting a job is the endgame. Gone is the pretension that people should feel privileged to learn theory or be adroit in the Socratic method.

Here's what the ABA will require law schools to provide, according to the NLJ:

1. Percentage of graduates who are employed and details about the types of jobs they have.

2. Whether graduates are in jobs that require a law degree; whether they are unemployed; whether their employment status is unknown; and whether they are in jobs funded by the law school or university.

3. The top three states where graduates work and the number who are working overseas.

On its Web site, LST calls the ABA's action "an enormous step . . . towards helping prospective law students make informed decisions."

Interestingly, LST is not pushing for audits of the information provided by the law schools. It states on its Web site: "It seems unnecessary to us because we do not believe the problem lies with falsified data, but misleading information."

The mission is far from over, writes Kyle McEntee, one of LST's founders, in an e-mail to me: "We are not asking for schools to do more work, just that schools share the data that they have that does not violate privacy norms and privacy laws. The challenge is now showing the ABA that there is no reason to withhold these data."

It's not easy getting the attention of a mammoth organization like ABA, but LST did it. It deserves our kudos.

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I wish this would be required of all colleges and universities. It's so obvious that they take advantage of the cultural bias that unfortunately makes people believe a person with a degree is automatically better. Of course, this isn't true!
This bias makes people take on un-repayable debt and stress to get a degree that ends up not helping them get a better job - the colleges are fully aware of this and exploit it. Not just law schools, all colleges do this. :p

It's good to hear news about a reform attempt actually succeeding. Keep up the good work LST!

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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